Jennifer Jo Cobb quit her ride with the Second Chance Race Parts NASCAR Nationwide Series team just minutes before the green flag in Saturday’s Scott’s EZ Seed 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway.
What happened to prompt that move depends on who you believe.
Cobb says she walked away when Second Chance team owner Rick Russell reneged on their agreement, ordering her to start and park the team’s #79 Ford just minutes before the race began. She said she had discussed the situation with Russell earlier in the week and was never told of Russell’s desire to park the car after only a few laps.
“The conversation was never had until 10 minutes before the race started,” said Cobb. “I had already bought tires to run the race, so you can imagine it was a blow -- both to my principles and my finances -- to hear this. I have made commitments to my sponsors, my fans and NASCAR that I'm not a start-and-park driver.”
Cobb said Russell threatened to have NASCAR black-flag her from the event if she refused to comply, and revealed plans to replace her in the car this weekend in Fontana.
“I got a phone call on Wednesday from someone saying (the car owner had told them) I was going to be replaced for California,” said Cobb. “I said, `Surely not,’ since we have a five-race agreement that runs through California. Then I got another phone call with news that the car owner was saying we were start-and-parking in California.
“I've made decisions about my career because of the promises he's made,” she said. “That's why I (chose to compete for) Nationwide points instead of Truck points. But 10 minutes before the race he told me I was starting and parking to save his car, that he would be replacing me in California, and that there was nothing I could do about it.”
Russell disputed Cobb’s version of events, telling reporter Dustin Long, “Five minutes before the race, she took her crew and left.” He said he informed the team in a Friday morning crew meeting that his plan was to start and park, adding, “I explained to everyone what our purpose was this weekend. We destroyed a car in Las Vegas (due to) Kyle Busch's accident. We only had one car, so we had to have the body completely replaced except for the roof, deck lid and rear bumper.
“Without a sponsor, the $16,000 bill to put this car together just about broke me,” said Russell. “We already had our entry in for California… so I let everybody know we were here in a conservative mode. We would practice smart, we would qualify, we would make a few laps and then we would park the car and save it for California.” Russell said he was so determined to start and park that he left his over-the-wall pit crew at home.
Cobb says her former car owner never used the words “start and park” in that Friday meeting, adding that she and crew chief Steve Kuykendall both believed Russell wanted them to race smart, stay out of trouble and take no chances on the race track.
“There was not one person in that meeting -- aside from Rick Russell -- that took from the conversation that we were starting and parking,” said Cobb. “He said, `We have to race conservatively… hold this car together, get out of any packs and race without (putting) a scratch on the car.’ I gave him my commitment that I would do that. I promised to practice conservatively, qualify conservatively and I upheld my end of the bargain to maintain the one car that he owns.
“I bought the tires for this race out of the Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing account,” she said. “The tire situation (with Goodyear bringing in all-new tires Saturday morning to solve a severe tire wear problem discovered in practice) made this a very expensive weekend. I can assure you that I wouldn’t have bought a second set of practice tires and a set of (new) race tires to start and park. He allowed me to do all those things, then informed me 10 minutes before the race that I was to start and park.”
She said she initially agreed to honor Russell’s wishes, if he guaranteed that she would remain in the #79 Ford next weekend in California. “I told him, `If you can look me in the eye and tell me I’m racing in California, I’ll do this for you,’” she said. “He said, `You’re not racing in California.’ I thought about it for a few seconds, then grabbed my gear and walked off.
“Why should I change the entire philosophy of my racing career to start and park for somebody and conserve a car… that I’m not even getting to race (the next week)?”
Russell accused Cobb and Kuykendall of assembling a pit crew without his knowledge in an attempt to run the entire race, then leaving him in a lurch when he refused to honor their demands. “She waited until five minutes before start time, (then took) her crew chief and the other people that worked for her and left,” he said. “I was left sitting on pit road without a driver and made myself look stupid. I made NASCAR look stupid, the whole bunch of us looked stupid.''
In a subsequent Twitter posting, Kuykendall accused Russell of threatening him and Cobb. "Car owner Rick Russel (sic) threatened myself and anyone associated with Jennifer with a jack handle in the pits," he wrote. "Rick Russell is making lots of untrue accusations about Jennifer and I. The only thing we are guilty of is wanting to race!"
Cobb and the Second Chance Motorsports team failed to qualify for the season-opening Drive For COPD 300 at Daytona, before finishing 32nd at Phoenix International Raceway and 31st in Las Vegas; both due to crashes. Russell tabbed Chris Lawson as a last-minute Bristol replacement, joining the race well after the green flag and completing just four laps before heading for the garage. Tim Andrews is expected to drive the #79 Ford at Auto Club Speedway this weekend.